Bat For LashesEdit this event
- Victoria Park, Poplar »
Thom Yorke is, by his own admission, terrified. Big stage, bigger crowd, and all eyes on the hunched Radiohead frontman as his fingers go to work on a solo piano take on Eraser highlight ‘Cymbal Rush’. Yet the nuances are lost amidst the chatter, the persistent buzz of background hum that’s forever evident at massive live events like this – a football-proportioned gathering comprises the endless throng, individuals coaxed out of gig-going retirement once more, to dance to the four songs they recognise as if each was ‘Fools Gold’.
This is the encore, though, a brief parting gesture after two hours of catalogue selections and just a handful of genuine hits. Rewind… When DiS arrives at Victoria Park we catch all of five minutes of support act Bat For Lashes before the PA pops and silence spreads across the open space. Adele – labelmate of our headliners – can be heard voicing her disapproval. Eventually technicians work their magic and, after a prolonged delay, Natasha Khan and her colourful cohorts return for a brace – something old in ‘Prescilla’ and something sparklingly new, presumably from the group’s as-yet-untitled second album, due later this year.
Those identifiable as only usually coming to gigs when they’re on this scale – Lambretta-branded polo tee, one-day travelcard in the top pocket, always on their mobile, asking nearby attendees who the support band was “because she was a bit weird, yeah” – scramble barwards in the interim; DiS is sucked along, too, taking two or three when usually one would suffice for the beginning of our feature attraction. Well, when in Rome. A crackle, a fizz; the stage lights slowly come alive. It’s not quite party time, ladies and gents, but the hour is upon us: Radiohead’s rise to legendary status over nearly two decades together is confirmed. It doesn’t get any bigger than this. It can’t, surely? A festival-sized stage dominates the skyline, the trees around it shrinking by the second. Five figures wander on.
“Did the cat get your tongue…?” Seemingly not as Victoria Park erupts as one to the opening salvo of ‘15 Step’, an obvious (but not unwelcome) first offering given its lead position on the band’s latest LP, In Rainbows. The first three songs aired this evening – you can’t really say ‘tonight’ given the sun’s some time from setting – are taken from Radiohead’s pay-what-you-will seventh album, ‘Bodysnatchers’’ savage basslines and insistent percussion rightfully stealing away onlookers’ reservations, its players the puppet masters orchestrating an undulating sea of revelry beneath them (and from their lofty perch everyone is below them). ‘All I Need’ slows the pace marginally, and from here it’s evident those coming for ‘Creep’, for ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ and ‘Paranoid Android’, are going to leave disappointed.
While it may seem churlish of a band to neglect their most-successful single to date – ‘Paranoid Android’ peaked at number three in 1997 – such omissions are meant as statements of intent. Radiohead have never stood still, never rested on their laurels; they’re the only band in the UK, maybe the world, playing shows of this scale but still absolutely of contemporary relevance in an artistic capacity. Bon Jovi, The Rolling Stones: they can play stadiums, but when was the last time a new record of theirs was worth your money over a greatest hits set? Muse? Come on – they’ve been riding Radiohead’s coattails ever since ‘Uno’ broke the 75 in ’99. Radiohead continue to inspire, and those seeing them for the first time here, now, will never forget the experience.
Those who have tracked the band live since they battled valiantly against the march of Britpop, since they wooed America with their early-period angst, may not however – too much of this set is seeped in melancholy, in the band’s wonderful on-record murk. It’s fantastic live, in doses, but genuine excitement doesn’t ripple about the grounds until the twelfth song, a feverously executed ‘Just’. One of two selections from 1995’s The Bends, considered (wrongly) by some critics to be the band’s best-ever long-player, is followed by ‘Climbing Up The Walls'; a brooding beast of assault-sonics on CD, here it’s neutered by an atmosphere unforgiving, by an en masse opinion that the band should ‘play the hits’ (ultimately there are only three selections from their bona-fide best, OK Computer). At least that’s how it seems where DiS is stood – some of these people around us might as well have stayed home, such is the attention they are paying the quintet.
An awkwardly toned set reaches its final stages with a flourish of favourites – ‘Airbag’, ‘Planet Telex’, ‘Idioteque’ (during which DiS’s colleague states, firmly, “You can’t talk to me now”, lost in the swirling, syncopated rhythms) – but the feeling remains that, really, this has been an opportunity missed. Sticking to your guns is all well and good, but a few more crowd-pleasers wouldn’t have gone amiss in a lengthy set with an asking price of well over £40. DiS doesn’t leave disheartened – a fan since day dot, we’re happy with our lot. But as the audience spills out onto the streets, heading towards Mile End and Bow Road, mumbles of disaffection are detectable. The fans that only come out for gigantic shows consider where Radiohead rank among the Aerosmiths, the Eric Claptons, the Pink Floyds at Live 8s. For a few seconds, anyway, before concluding that they don’t.
Yorke has been – and perhaps always will be – a rabbit in the headlights, twitching and terrified. But by putting themselves in front of more and more full beams Radiohead are lessening the affecting appeal of their best material, much of which is played here (‘There There’, ‘Videotape’), drowned as it is by idle banter about how ‘Just’ sounds better “with all those horns all over it, yeah? Who did that anyway? Oh, Ronson! Seeing him at Wireless ain’t I. Although I’m not watching that fucking Jay-Z. Rap music, eh? Fuckin’ rap music…”
Video: 'Dollars & Cents' live at Victoria Park
** Victoria Park setlist; 24/06/08**
_ ‘15 Step’
‘All I Need’
‘The National Anthem’
‘Weird Fishes / Arpeggi’
‘Dollars & Cents’
‘Climbing Up The Walls’
‘Everything In Its Right Place’ *
‘How To Disappear Completely’
‘Jigsaw Falling Into Place’
‘Bangers & Mash’
‘You And Whose Army’
- (Grammar-centric) Displayed by the light show as 'Everything In It's Right Place' - stray apostrophe, whoops.
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